Mission Creep



From top: Members of the Irish Defence Forces take part in a parade for the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin last Easter; Derek Mooney

The author shoots down the prospect of a Europe Army and urges a fact-based assessment of Ireland’s defence needs.


Derek Mooney writes:

Though you may not have noticed it – there was, over the last few weeks, an attempt to start a public debate on Irish Defence policy. While the Irish Examiner, in particular, did its level best to get it going, the discussion soon fizzled out.

The reason why the debate never really got going may be due to the fact that we tend to only discuss defence policy in public in response to some significant event or, more frequently, to some outlandish and unfounded claim.

On the rare occasions that we have any debate on defence in Ireland, they tend to be either end of the extreme ranging from claims that we are abandoning neutrality, a claim made continuously since the 1970s, to questions as to why we even have a Defence Force.

Though there is a real and clear public pride in our Defence Forces, both at home and abroad, there is also a surprising paucity of knowledge about Defence policy.

With this in mind, I want to use this week’s Broadsheet.ie offering to put some basic facts about Irish Defence policy out there, in the vain hope that the next public debate on Defence may be based on fact and reality, not myth and assertion.

Let’s start with a few basics.

The Irish Defence Forces comprise the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service and should total 9,500 men and women. The current manpower figure as set out in a parliamentary reply to Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers, is just under 9100.

There are approximately 460 Irish troops currently serving overseas on a range of UN led and mandated peace-keeping and humanitarian missions.

These include: 60 naval service personnel on the humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean; about 210 troops on the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon and approx 140 troops serving in the UNDOF mission on the Golan Heights in Syria.

Though these numbers are way down from the average of 800 plus personnel serving overseas less than a decade ago, it still represents a sizeable Irish contribution to international peace and security, which in turn contributes to our own national security.

We spend about €900 million per year on Defence, though the vast bulk (over 70%) is accounted for by wages and pensions.

When it comes to value for money the Defence Forces lead the way.

The reform and modernisation programme undertaken between 2001 and 2010 make it a model of how public sector reform can be done right. Productivity was increased, numbers were reduced and the savings were invested in vastly improved equipment and training.

Now let’s turn to the policy side. First and foremost, Ireland is militarily neutral. While this is usually defined as not being a member of a military alliance, it also means that we decide for ourselves how much we spend on defence and – most importantly – how, where and when we deploy our troops overseas on humanitarian and peace-keeping/peace enforcement operations.

This is done via the “Triple-Lock” mechanism of UN mandate, Cabinet and Dáil approval. Triggering this triple lock is required before 12 or more Defence Force personnel are deployed overseas under arms.

This enshrines not only our military neutrality but our commitment to multilateralism and the UN.

We use the phrase UN mandated, which means that a UN resolution is required. Nowadays many UN mandated missions are not UN led, i.e. “blue helmet”, but rather led by regional organisations – such as the EU, The African Union, NATO etc – on behalf of the UN. This was the case in the 2008 EU For Chad mission, which was commanded by an Irishman, Gen. Pat Nash.

I was in the Dept. of Defence during the Chad/Central African Republic mission, which was established to deal with the crisis created in the region on foot of the Darfur famine.

I saw how the Triple Lock was implemented smoothly and speedily. UN resolution 1778 was passed at the end of Sept 2007, Cabinet Approval was given in October, unanimous Dáil approval by the end of November and by December an initial deployment of Army Rangers and support elements were on the ground in Eastern Chad establishing the Irish Camp.

Any difficulties in deployment were not due to the Irish or the Triple Lock but rather to the frustrating slowness of other EU countries, particularly the non-neutral ones, to respond especially when it came to offering air and medical support to the mission.

Nothing I saw at those defence meetings in Brussels led me to think that an EU Army was a realistic possibility, leaving aside the fact that we have a veto (EU requires unanimity on common defence) on it and that the Irish Constitution (Art 29.4.9) precludes Irish membership of a common defence.

Speaking of air support brings me back to the Irish Examiner article mentioned at the outset. From my perspective this appears to be based on the inaccurate, if not sensationalised misreading, of an already inaccurate report.

I say inaccurate as the original material suggests that is not Ireland which has asked the RAF to protect our airspace from terrorist threats, but rather that it is the British who have asked for Irish permission to fly into our air space in the event of terrorist air attacks heading for Britain.

When viewed this way the story is not quite as sensational, nor is it the slam dunk argument for Ireland rushing out and purchasing a fleet of F-16s.

I am not absolutely opposed to our buying a few F-16s – though if we are going to go into the fighter aircraft market why not opt for some newer F-35s?

I am sure the Air Corps would be overjoyed to have them, though I suspect the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure might baulk at the tripling or quadrupling of annual defence expenditure necessary to keep these fighters in the air 24/7, especially when we consider the real and actual threat assessments.

So, let us have a full debate on defence (and foreign) policy by all means, but let us ground it in fact and reality.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil led government 2004 – 2010. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

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32 thoughts on “Mission Creep

  1. Baffled

    The suggestion that a small neutral country, surrounded by friendly neighbours, which has a defence budget of only €900m per annum, should purchase F-35s at $100m a pop to patrol Dublin’s airspace against a minuscule threat is utterly ridiculous.

    1. Anomanomanom

      That was his point, he simple said IF buying planes why not buy them, he did not say “why dont we have them, we need them”.

  2. Al

    The triple lock is a joke, if China, Russia, the US, France or the UK decide to veto something then we cannot send our peacekeepers there. Macedonia requested UN help during the balkin crisis and Ireland had to pull out because China exercised such a veto. It should be the Irish government alone that decides where to send its troop to or not

  3. Jake38

    We are not neutral. We’re defenceless. It’s different. Sweden is neutral

    The “triple lock” is a farce. The UN Security Council (currently including Angola, Egypt and God help us, Venezuela) gets to decide when our troops go abroad! What loon decided that?

      1. Niallo

        +1 i used to think f16’s would be a good idea, until you consider general dynamics stopped making oarts years ago, thats why they are cheap now.

  4. blueswannabe

    We’ve ‘advisors’ in Afghanistan training troops, not sure how neutral that is tbh…

  5. Tish Mahorey

    More of the softly softly into NATO.

    This propaganda campaign has been going on now for the last twenty years. Little news stories creeping in here and there about the army and militarism in Ireland.

    So-called peace keeping missions are mere networking events for armies to collaborate and get closer. They also serve as military training exercises. And because many of them are in urban settlings, they serve nicely as training for popular uprisings and public rioting against increasingly oppressive western governments.

    1. Al

      yeah our guys in the golan heights are getting great training for the lads from nepal in how to break up water protests.

  6. Sullery

    I don’t love the idea of splurging money on defence but if we’re going to be neutral we should do it properly, and that includes looking after outcome air defence. If the money became available we should look at leasing a squadron or two.

  7. manonfire

    In any civilised country the army should only be used for impressing kids at parades..

    splurging millions and sometimes billions on artillery that goes out of fashion quicker than iphones is a bad use of funds which are badly needed in other areas of our society,

    ie kids hospital, hospital bed crisis, housing crisis.. those should be top priority, not F-35’s

  8. Westbrit

    So our Air Corp has no defence or military capability. They fly 1 plane for fishery protection and some assistance to Customs and 1 medivac helicopter. Whats their budget again ?

  9. Bonkers

    I always thought that the reason our defence forces were sent to Chad in 2007 was because of a backroom deal between Bertie and Sarkozy, Irish troops would clean up Frances foreign policy mess in Africa and in return Sarkozy would throw Frances weight behind a Bertie bid for President of the EU. Shame things didnt work out for either Sarkozy or Bertie.

  10. Fully Keen

    A tiny bankrupt island cannot afford to run an army.

    It’s that simple.

    I want a functioning health system first.


  11. Truth in the News

    900 Million on an Army with less than 10000 members and over 700 million spent
    on salaries and pensions, all the army is there for is make sure that the politicans
    dont get toppled, there are not there to protect the populace, its more to contain them it would be interesting to see what would happen, if is was put up to them, how
    far was off was it to deploy them in the water meter protest.
    We need a different type of defense stratergy, one that trains every citizen like
    Switzerland, that produces and makes the smaller items like small arms and
    ammunition, and communication equipement, we also need an Engineering Corp
    same as the US, ask yourself, what are nearly 10000 of the army doing every day
    As to F16 or F35 they would not be off the ground to intercept a high speed target
    in time.

  12. Zupp International

    The answer is not F16’s. It’s drones controlled from a secret island by [redacted]. Just add hate crime:

    Over to you, history:


    “Maximinus I used Conspiracy, a crime still used by the United States yet abandoned in Europe, Russia, and even China. Conspiracy is the law of tyrants, for it allows the conviction of someone for a crime they did not commit, nor even attempted to commit but you claim they “intended” purely as a mental state to commit in the future. Maximinus I engaged in legal persecution. Thus, the criminal law became:
    (1) committing the act,
    (2) attempting to commit the act, and then
    (3) there is Conspiracy which is claimed you have only “intended” to commit the act in your mind, which cannot be proven and typically requires extorting a confession by force.

    Using conspiracy, the law of tyrants, Maximinus I effectively tore the Roman economy apart at its seams. He charged a noted Senator by the name of Magnus, with conspiracy against the emperor, found him guilty, executed him, and then arrested 4,000 others claiming they conspired with him to intend to depose him. He then used the criminal law to claim they committed a crime of conspiracy, and that of course justified confiscating all their property as well.

    The second act of Maximinus I was to declare that all wealth simply belonged to the emperor in a communistic fashion. What took place, however, was the complete breakdown of society. Wealth was driven underground and money now was hoarded causing VELOCITY to collapse as cash flow in circulation vanished and hoarding prevailed. This caused the economy to implode as commerce ceased fostering an economic depression, which naturally reduced tax revenues. Maximinus I did not stop with simply private wealth. Maximinus I ordered the wealth of all temples to be confiscated as well. Countless died in defense of their religious beliefs. Not even the gods were respected by Maximinus I whose view was they never answered prayers because they did not exist.”

  13. Dick Flapped Don

    How much are the yanks paying us to refuel their war planes in shannon? Whatever amount it is it’s not enough for us to have lost neutral country status over.

  14. James O'Mahoney

    F35s? Seriously?

    You only need F35s if you want to enter hostile airspace without being seen? They aren’t really much use for a small neutral country like Ireland that would never be capable of bringing a war to another state. The stealth features of these aircraft are completely useless in an intercept capacity when it is considered that the aircraft to be intercepted will see you and be intended to see you.

    A more appropriate and cost effective use for Irish tax payers funding would be the purchase of the Swedish Gripen NG which is a fraction of the price of the F35, and not only that, when you buy the plane, you also buy the source code so that threat libraries can be easily updated without recourse to Uncle Sam.

    The Gripen is also faster than the F35 and when you add external fuel tanks and meteor missiles to the F35, its radar cross section is increased. While designed to carry meteor missiles, they are too large to fit in the weapons bay, so they must be carried on the outside.

    You can also land the gripen on short stretches of roadway if your runways have been blown out, where a team of five can turn the gripen around in 10 minutes verses 36 hours for some other aircraft. It is also possible to change an engine in an hour.

    Perhaps a small compliment of F35s would be useful to patrol beyond the periphery of our economic zone? The idea is that the F35 would be covered by a gripen several miles behind and some stealth drones would /could be flown by the pilot of the F35.

    Anyway, I am not sure that the stealthy features of aircraft such as the F35 cannot be compromised in that they can get quite hot giving off a heat signature which can be detected by IRST systems. IRST systems are not entirely reliable in certain weather conditions, but they are better than nothing. Stealth aircraft are also visible to standard location radar systems. It is not so easy though, to lock a targeting radar onto them unless the aircraft is relatively nearby.

    If stealth aircraft flies into an area bristling with passive radar systems and commercial radio communications, the passive radar will “wake up” the nearby targeting radar when local radio communications begin bouncing off of the nearby stealth plane.

    You can buy very effective drones which can stay aloft for over 24 hours for a fraction of even the cost of a Gripen NG. They can also be used as data links to assets over the horizon and for maritime patrol.

    Perhaps the government should consider purchasing some Danish Absalon class or German/Dutch Saschen/Seven Provincien class frigates to patrol the periphery of our economic zone locating them 500 miles apart in the ocean. The modern radar on these boats can track and categorise 100s of targets simultaneously while engaging up to 20 targets at the same time. The modular configuration of the Absalon class is particularly suited to a small navy such as the Irish navy as it can be used as a transport ship as well as a war ship. The Absalon class comes with 20 cylinder engines incorporating cylinder shut down technology. I am not sure that I like those engines, but they are still probably better than the engines on the Type 45 destroyer which fail in warm weather conditions and as a consequence, must be replaced.

    The author makes no reference to AWACS systems such as SAABs Eirieye or the much better Israeli offering that they fit to the Gulfstream G550. Eirieeye in particular, is multimode in that it can be used to categorise air, sea and ground targets. It’s weakness is that it has a blind spot at the front and the rear, but if you have all of your other assets in place, this should not present any issues. IN fact, these systems in conjunction with drones and fighter aircraft may reduce the number of naval vessels needed. The Eirieeye also has an ELINT capacity.

    With all of these systems linked together via data links and a command and control centre, NOTHING would get in or out of the Irish economic zone unnoticed!

    IN a nutshell, Ireland will have to raise spending on defence to 5% of GDP for a couple of years to buy new hardware before dropping back to two percent. the €900 million that Ireland does spend on defence is nonsensical.

    Then, when they do drop it back to 2%, the remaining 3% should be invested into an Irish space programme. The Chinese space programme costs no more than €6 billion per annum and they are going to the moon and Mars.

    I can only speculate that this policy advisor got his job as policy advisor with F-FAIL because of who rather than what he knows.

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